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States are withholding vaccine information
And why they should be working in overdrive to do the opposite.
Yesterday, one of my favorite science writers published an important piece: “Legislatures and politicians are pressuring public health officials to keep quiet about Covid vaccines.” Texas and Florida were called out, and Tennessee was briefly mentioned.
I can attest to this. One of these states recently invited me to speak at an event. Before going on stage, I was told what I could and could not say.
These states, in particular, should be doing the opposite: working overdrive in vaccine education given their excess deaths and poor health landscape.
Let’s dig in.
We (still) have excess deaths.
Excess deaths (i.e., the number of weekly deaths above “normal”) have ebbed and flowed. The national average has declined thanks to immunity but remains above pre-pandemic times.
Given myriad complex factors, the cumulative number of excess deaths differs by state. Since 2020, Texas has experienced the highest cumulative number of excess deaths. Florida and Tennessee rank among the top 10.
When these excess deaths racked up varies greatly across states. For example, FL had relatively low excess deaths before vaccines but high excess deaths after vaccines (which seems counterintuitive). In 2022, excess deaths in TX remained consistently higher than the national average.
Some other causes of death (car accidents) have decreased over time, which would impact overall excess death. So for a comprehensive picture, we need to look at Covid-19 specific deaths, too.
In 2022, Covid-19 remained the 4th leading cause of death.
Today, TN and FL rank high—5th and 8th place—for Covid-19 death rates. (TX is somewhere in the middle.)
Overall health is poor.
Theoretically, states with populations that have more risk factors (i.e., poorer health) should shoot for more vaccine education and higher coverage to save lives and keep hospitals below capacity.
According to America’s Health Ratings, residents in FL, TN, and TX have, on average, poor overall health (ranked #27, #44, and #38 out of 50, respectfully). This is true for high-risk conditions too, like low birth weight and multiple chronic conditions.
Access to care is poor.
In addition, states with poor healthcare access should push for more public education campaigns to reach and prevent illness among everyone (instead of just those with a doctor who can provide information).
Unfortunately, FL, TN, and TX rank as some of the lowest in terms of access to healthcare, poverty, and people avoiding care because of costs.
Vaccines can help.
Vaccines continue to work well against severe disease. We’ve consistently seen this story, for example in the U.K.
In the U.S., we don’t have a universal healthcare system to make the above graph, but we can look at effectiveness. Last fall’s vaccines provided 50-60% additional protection among older adults compared to people who didn’t get the fall vaccine.
Unfortunately, vaccination coverage remains incredibly low. Some states, including TX, FL, and TN, remain below average. In fall 2022, they reached a vaccination rate of 11% for the general population and 30% for those over 65+ years old.
Communities need public health information, especially those with low access to care and many pre-disposing factors. Actively suppressing evidence-based information about a tool that can prevent the 4th leading cause of death is atrocious. Everyone deserves a fair opportunity to make healthy decisions.
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“Your Local Epidemiologist (YLE)” is written by Dr. Katelyn Jetelina, MPH Ph.D.—an epidemiologist, wife, and mom of two little girls. During the day, she is a senior scientific consultant to several organizations, including the CDC. At night she writes this newsletter. Her main goal is to “translate” the ever-evolving public health world so that people will be well-equipped to make evidence-based decisions. This newsletter is free, thanks to the generous support of fellow YLE community members. To support this effort, subscribe below: